Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Joan Crawford 1928-1930 Photoplay

I've been on a early age of cinema bender since a second viewing of the "Hollywood" miniseries from Thames Television about a week ago-- out of print and only available on VHS, who should have all 13 volumes but my friendly downtown library? In that vein, I've recently made the goldmine/bonanza like discovery of Internet Archive's E-X-T-E-N-S-I-V-E silent movie holdings. You can watch tons of Harold Lloyd, Chaplin, even D.W. Griffith on the site, but what really caught my eye... the printed materials. As in, oh, the years 1925-1930 and a bonus most-of-the months-of-1915 issues of PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE. One of the best of the publicity rags running around Hollywood in its first fifty years, as well as one of the first, Photoplay ran from 1911-1941 before merging with Movie Mirror. Dishy, well-illustrated... just a slice of heaven here on earth, and something I thought I'd never get to see. If you want to start from 1925, you can find those issues here.

When I figured out the online reader of these magazines provides a SEARCH ENGINE, you can imagine the first thing I looked up was my baby Joan Crawford (whose heavily beaded lashes grace the banner at the top of this blog, from her film Paid). I've gone to bat for the woman before, trying to explain to people with a minimal grasp of her contribution to film history how truly important she was in her time as a near-perfect example of the rags-to-riches celebrity story. Through sheer determination and personal drive, the woman managed to work her way up the Hollywood ladder from a provincial hoofer (winner of several mid 20's charleston competitions), to jazz baby flapper (Our Dancing Daughters), to sleek, greyhound lithe glamorpuss (all the shopgirl to society girl in one reel), and finally into a re-emergence in the 1940's as queen of the Warner Brothers lot (a title hotly contested by Bette Davis, who, while the better actress, was in my opinion the lesser star). After being dropped from the Metro roster after a string of flops, Crawford came back with a hot new film (Mildred Pierce) as well as an Oscar win, and continued to be one of the hardest working girls on the West Coast practically until her death in 1977. Five minutes of screen time in a mawkish, wildly unfair film based on a mawkish, wildly unfair book has become her undeserved epitaph. "No wire hangers...ever!" and "We're gonna cleeeean thisssss houuuuuuse!" are still a housekeeping battle cries between myself and my fiance (the camp quality is irresistable), but as a dyed in the wool Golden Age of Hollywood advocate, I can't bear to see everything she built in her career, which, in turn, WAS her life, reduced to a caricature written in poison pen.

What I was interested in, reading these early Photoplays, was the lightbulb eyed ingenue presented by MGM at the beginning of the sound era, as she began her ascent to the highest peak of celebrity at a time in which celebrity was truly something special. Through these clippings, you can watch her slow climb from bit player to featured player to fan favorite to star. What a different path these things took back then! While her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., cemented her social status in Hollywood (his father, Douglas, Sr., and stepmother, Mary Pickford, reigned for years as king and queen of the movie lot society set), her success in early talkies such as Possessed (with Clark Gable, not to be confused with the 40's movie of the same title she starred in with Van Heflin), Grand Hotel, Letty Lynton, and Sadie McKee conferred upon her a place in the MGM firmament. These photos and articles (culled mainly from 1928 through 1930) are from the tipping point between "known" and "established" for Joan Crawford

Most of the pieces range from celebrity endorsement (from nylons, to paint, to hair products, and the most scandalous to me, a 1929 bathing suit) to cozy human interest (there's an article featuring recipes by "JoDo" [the somehow still kind of cute combination of the first syllables of DF and JC's first names]). Back then, both the actress and the studio publicity mill were working overtime to create a real image for the idea of "Joan Crawford". She's mentioned at least four or five times in each issues-- always "the auburn haired, blue eyed Joan Crawford" saying something piquant that fans can relate to.

Has anyone ever seen a makeup shield like this before?

Above, a full article about Joan and Doug's house (which she continued to live in after their divorce, and completely remodeled [as in gutted] after her remarriage to Franchot Tone) and how Joan keeps house. I so love to see old Hollywood interiors-- Joan's house went through several transformations over the years. It doesn't help that one of her former co-stars and best friends was Billy Haines. For more about Hollywood houses of the studio system era, I suggest Dream Palaces... out of print but your library's sure to have it (one article, two shout outs to the public library...can you tell where I work?).

The aforementioned recipe page (bonus, Eddie Cantor recipe to the left) and a fashion spread. She's slim, slim, slim, but she somehow manages to look so awkward in these layouts. The cheekbones she was famous for only seem to turn up in later films-- I hate to think that ten pounds can make the difference between being cute and being startlingly beautiful, but hey, it seems to be the case.

To the left, quote "Not only does she have a perfect figure, but also a camera-proof face." Good work, La Crawford. On the right, a night out on the town with Doug, with the special bonus of Jack Gilbert (Garbo's inamorato) out with Virginia Cherrill (Cary Grant's first wife and the Tramp's Blind Flower Girl in City Lights) and my darling Marion Davies looking like a bottle of champagne ready to pop.

Truckloads of fan mail? Probably due to the fact that they give out her address care of the studio in practically every issue.
The coat on the right has a matching liner, I forgot to include it when cutting down the scan. What an ingenious idea on the purse handle to the left!!
Doug and Joan at home, and Joan striking a pose in the name of hosiery.

To the LORD, Joan. Seriously? She's the only person who ended up famous in the whole layout of bathing suits.

Hope you like. There's more, tons more! Check out the Photoplay link at the beginning to do your own silent movie sleuthing.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Junior Party Book--Berenice Wells Carlton

1930's children's party inviations! A revelation!

Totally obsessed with The Junior Party Book by Bernice Wells Carlson (1938)-- my definitive (well, admittedly, only, as it's the first I've seen) choice for a late 30's sourcebook to guide your child into the position of precocious adolescent party host. The book is written in that Ladies' Home Journal pre-WWII third person prose you read in a lot of linoleum ads: "Patty O'Connor's Irish eyes were really shining as she thought of plans for her St. Patrick Day's party." Each holiday is presented as an event that happened, detailing games played, food eaten, decorations, invitations-- the whole shebang. My favorite party so far, and one that I most certainly intend on throwing (February 21, 2010-- mark your calendars):

George Washington's Birthday (read: President's Day):

Invitations: This guy with a hat. The hatchet and the apple are for the field events team drawings. "Yankee Doodle may have been a dandy, but the paper Colonial gentlemen which Bill Adams sent to bear invitations to his Geo. Washington party wore warm wool caps and mufflers reminniscent of the days of Valley Forge." Again, the writing style is adorable.

Field events: Draw from a box some figures (apples, cherries, axes) to form teams. First event, the broad jump-- points are awarded by measuring the width of teammates’ smiles and judging the widest winner. Second event, high hurdles-- each team member eats a certain number of crackers as fast as they could and then whistle to prove they’re through, until all the crackers are eaten. Third event, tug of war—red licorice with a cherry in the middle serves as the rope, each team leader puts his hands behind his back, and one side of the licorice piece in his mouth. First one to the cherry wins—no pulling on the licorice or tugging it away.

Boston Tea Party: Host says,“Now we’ll see how good you can be at keeping the tea away from Old John Bull”. One boy is John Bull, the others circle around him and toss a tea bag as he tries to get it. If he catches the tea bag, the one who threw it becomes John Bull.

Spy relay—each leader gets five sheets of tissue paper, balances them on their curved arm, carries them across the room, and returns to the team to relay them to the next person. Walking too fast or slow will blow the papers off and you have to start over.

Historic Pantomime—Act out an early American story—each team chooses props and costumes from a box, everyone has to act out something. Call out “Curtain” after 10 minutes and try and guess the event.

Refreshments-- Artificial tree with cherries attached—rubber hatchets for the boys and crepe paper colonial dolls for the girls. Baked ham, sweet potatoes, biscuits, and cherry tarts to eat.

And that wasn't enough to make you flip your lid, here are some of the invitations for other holidays. Notice how many have detachable items (St. Patty carries a shamrock, the Doll Party doll has her own paper clothes, Robin Hood and his arrows, etc, etc) and all can be made at home with decent tracing paper and some watercolors. You do not have to go all Lisa Frank on this can get your kid to make the invitations himself! And they'll be so much more precious.

SO. AWESOME. Can you imagine being a little kid at any of these parties? I remember most of my childhood parties in the late eighties and early nineties' had 1) not nearly enough kids (this seems to presuppose you know about ten more kids than I would have as a tenyear old), 2) a primarily pizza and soda based menu, and 3) NOT. NEARLY. ENOUGH. RELAY. RACES. Or games of any kind, for that matter. My cousin Joe's twelfth birthday party, from when I would have been eleven, was mainly the group of us watching a Blockbuster copy of Kazaam and playing some kind of Star Wars Nintendo Game. Still kind of awesome, but comparitively, a major let down in the area of homespun fun. Look at how the mother would have to think everything out in advance, but the child could actually participate in a major portion of the planning and execution of the party. Also, the book shows how you can have parties all year long, for all kinds of events, not just birthdays. A revelation. I'm so turning my house into a party boot camp when I have kids. My son will be in training to become Addison DeWitt. Worse things could happen.

Berenice Wells Carson died only last year (98 years old!!)-- the linked article from the School Library Journal (there's a publication for everything) says she got most of her ideas from her extensive work as a teacher, Girl Scout troop leader and church group leader, as well as author of several other children's-party books. What a joy she must've been to the kids that worked and played with her.

The author in her 90's:

Bravo, Mrs. Carlson!


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